News and analysis
November 10, 2014

Alec Baldwin Pulls Out of Independent Sector’s Conference

Alec Baldwin has decided not to give a keynote address at the annual meeting of Independent Sector, which opens Sunday in Seattle.

Mr. Baldwin was scheduled to headline the opening plenary session at the conference, which attracts many charity and foundation leaders from across the country. The selection of Mr. Baldwin, who was donating his time to speak, attracted some criticism, with one foundation executive arguing it said something "a little pathetic" about the direction of nonprofits.

The 56-year-old actor has been removed from the list of speakers.

"Due to late changes in his filming schedule, he regrets he will be unable to join us in person," according to a statement released Monday by Independent Sector. "We understand that he is working on a short video message to those gathered at the conference."

Philanthropy Work

Mr. Baldwin’s decades-long career as an actor and comedian has included appearances in scores of movies and television shows, including "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock." He has won several Emmy and Golden Globe awards and has one Oscar nomination to his name.

Mr. Baldwin has a namesake foundation, established in 2006. Grant recipients in 2013 included the Lincoln Center Theater, the Writer’s Almanac, and the New York Philharmonic. Like other celebrities, he frequently lends his name and face to charity events, like a Global Down Syndrome Foundation fashion show that took place in Denver last month.

Mr. Baldwin’s appearance at the Independent Sector conference was organized by Bob Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts and a member of the Independent Sector board, according to Independent Sector.

In a statement last month explaining the selection, Independent Sector cited Mr. Baldwin’s "commitment to philanthropy" and "powerful advocacy for the arts."

Still, Mr. Baldwin has been as colorful a character off-screen as he is on-screen, making himself a magnet for the paparazzi and a lighting rod for public criticism. In 2007, a voicemail was leaked in which the actor was heard screaming at his then-12-year-old daughter.

In 2011, Mr. Baldwin was removed from a plane for refusing to turn off his cellphone. And he has had in-person and digital skirmishes with entertainment journalists, including one incident in 2013 in which he aimed angry, homophobic language at a reporter from the Alec Baldwin Foundation Twitter handle.

Celebrity Appeal

Maria Mottola, executive director of the New York Foundation, criticized the selection of Mr. Baldwin as a conference speaker in a blog post published on the Philanthropy News Digest website in September.

The nonprofit world is filled with many courageous, interesting people, she said, and questioned why the conference should serve as a stop on one of Mr. Baldwin’s "redemption tours."

On Monday, Ms. Mottola said that she supports the involvement of celebrities in charities but added the conference marketed Mr. Baldwin’s appearance as if his celebrity was reason enough for people to attend.

"There may have been very good reasons to choose him, but those were not apparent in the initial promotional emails," she said.

It also raises other questions about why nonprofit officials are so reluctant to draw a firm line between for-profit entities and entities committed to solving social problems, Ms. Mottola said.

"Why are we not celebrating those characteristics that distinguish the field?" she said. "It spoke to me of the field’s inferiority complex."

Other plenary speakers still on the conference schedule include Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Luz Vega-Marquis, chief executive of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

Editor's note: This story was updated on November 11 to correct attribution on the statements from Independent Sector.

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